Data protection and data security – what is it?

“Ten minutes, five selfies and two videos. Then the question: which photo is best for Instagram and which for Facebook. There might even be a Snapchat story in there. OK, I’ll start the content maintenance of my Social Media channels in a minute. It is 14:10 now, I need to leave. Where am I going again? Hm, doesn’t matter – Google Maps will lead the way. Need to take the next left turn. On the way I finally have time to edit my photos and videos that I took earlier today. My smartphone warns me that my cloud storage is almost full – will need to buy some more when I have the chance. Saving the files externally improves the performance of my smartphone. Isn’t that fantastic?” The Internet of Things (IoT) has already permeated our lives.

What does this have to do with data protection and data security? These terms are often vague, and yet they are crucial to our freedom – the freedom and the personal rights of each of us. Data protection is the core of the processing of personal data. Everyone has the right of informational self-determination. The existing law protects the privacy of every citizen and prevents the illegal use of personal data.

Data security is often mentioned in the same context. Both terms describe the safe and secure handling of data, but each focuses on a different aspect. In case of data security it is irrelevant whether the data in question is personal. The objective of protecting this data from manipulation, loss or illegal use is more important. While data protection deals with collection and handling of personal information, data security aims at providing appropriate measures to secure the data.

Which role does IoT take in terms of security?

Basically, the responsibility spectrum of data protection and data security is rather transparent – or so it seems. However, what is it like in the context of IoT? Currently there are 50 billion devices, including machines, factories, robots, electronic devices, etc., with their own IP address. This creates a network of these permanently inter-connected devices. The data exchange in such a network is practically unstoppable. Let’s take a closer look at our favourite gadget of all – the smartphone, always close at hand. There is rarely a problem that it cannot help us solve. Within just a few hours we share so much personal information that the anonymous data collectors know us better than we do ourselves. I wonder if people know what happens to their personal information. Do we feel protected just because the term data protection exists? All you can hear nowadays is big data, data mining, Internet of Things, smart data, algorithms… How do all these correlate and how big is their effect on our privacy? The big data hype just keeps growing as we continue to share copious amounts of raw and unstructured personal data.

The technology for data collection and storage becomes better, faster and more precise. Data mining facilitates the processing and evaluation of unstructured data in real time. Algorithms also become smarter and can now create high speed data correlations which can help identify individuals or entire groups of people, meticulously analyse their behaviour, create behavioural patterns and infer their decision making process – enter data forecasting! (Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Work 4.0, 2016)

Big data, smart data and data forecasting

The current state of data handling and data protection in the US, compared to Europe, is even more frightening. In the US the release of data is subject to self-regulation through private businesses and private individuals whereas in Germany personal information is under the protection of the basic right – informational self-determination. This distinction directly affects the country specific data protection laws. In order to gain access to personal information in Germany, one would need a judicial order. Additionally, the authorities would have to notify the affected party. In the US the FBI, the NSA and the CSI can access data collections of US businesses without a court decision thanks to the controversial Patriot Act.

Data amounts (big data) and data quality (smart data) increase simultaneously. This alone should be reason enough to keep pushing for more data protection and more data security. With this critical examination in mind we must understand what it means to share less information. In our daily lives it would mean finding our way without the help of a sat-nav or making just enough pictures to keep our smartphone storage from overflowing, i.e. losing the cloud. It is a matter of individual preference: either we abandon social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat or they become part of our future – the choice is ours. Or maybe it isn’t black and white at all: instead of choosing one of the two extremes we could just be more sensible and selective with the information that we are willing to share.


In this digital world that keeps getting more advanced, more intelligent and ever more transparent it is our responsibility to safeguard our privacy and the right of informational self-determination. We must realise that “big data is based on models and algorithms which analyse past data, identify connections and use them to make predictions.” (Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, White Paper Work 4.0, Challenges presented by work 4.0, p. 65).  Personal responsibility remains a relevant factor in the critical debate about data protection and data security.


Article writen by Bahar Elevli, Trainee Social Media Research & Analytics at pressrelations GmbH

Bahar Elevli holds a degree in International Financial Management and has also worked in communications design. In October 2016 she joined pressrelations as a trainee for Social Media Research & Analytics. At our Dusseldorf office she is involved in the design of our cross-media reporting formats.

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